Bungee resistance training for kayaking

Bungees are a widely used training aid in paddling, but the how’s and the why’s are not always considered in great detail. Whether you're training for sprint or marathon they’re a great addition to a training program, especially when you’re trying to increase speed and specific strength. We wanted to give some overview and some thoughts on how to best use the different options, and what the benefits or drawbacks of resistance training for kayaking can be.

Why use bungees and resistance for kayaking?

There’s two major reasons to add extra resistance to your kayak, to slow down a paddler/paddlers to even out a group, and for sessions to work on strength / technique / distance per stroke.

If you’re just trying to balance out the pace of a group, so that no one is taking it too easy or getting left behind too often, then it’s generally best to use a simple bungee cord loop, possibly with a small ‘air flow’ ball or two. However, adding too much extra resistance runs a big risk of messing with your technique by the end of the session; making you hunch over, short stroke and generally try to muscle your way through. For most paddlers, a single bungee will be fine but 3 balls for a 60 minute session is likely to be messy by the end!

When doing specific resistance sessions the aim is to improve technique and specific strength. The extra resistance slows things down so you can focus on getting a strong catch, keeping weight on the blade, timing your leg drive, whatever it is you know you need to work on (hopefully you’ve always got a couple of things in mind).

Resistance tends to exacerbate problem areas of technique. This, when utilised correctly, can be an invaluable training aid. Mistakes such as leaving the paddle in too late, or exiting poorly, will be more apparent. Since the resistance slows down the boat, if you’re not being smooth and strong you’ll soon feel the boat jerking around and not flowing.

Bungees and resistance training are also great for improving specific strength and it will probably help you transition your gym strength into paddling strength. Be careful though, work up to the resistance level over a few sessions (with time to recover in between); this kind of training can be tough on your joints if you’re not used to it and having sore elbows is not going to help anyone paddle fast.

How to add resistance to your boat

    The main ways to add resistance are:
    1. Bungees / bungee balls
    2. Bungees with big balls
    3. Pipes
    4. Parachutes
    5. Custom scoops

    The classic bungee ball combo

    The classic option has always been the simple bungee, often with air flow balls added on. As you get stronger, or want to do more specific sessions you’re likely to need more resistance. These are perfect as they can be easily adjusted between efforts to keep the group together or to vary the resistance in accordance to the session.

    Bungee cord can be picked up from lots of places; Halfords sell it by the meter or in rolls, and many places sell it online, giving you much more choice of colour! Small airflow balls are similarly easy to pick up, Sports Direct stock them as do many other places.

    Large balls

    The obvious progression from small balls! Tennis balls are easy to get hold of, but awkward to slide around on the bungee. Large hollow plastic balls with holes are much nicer. The holes help keep the balls in place, and therefore your boat straight. They are pretty elusive but you can get them online from kentandcleal, they also sell big boxes of smaller balls.


    These are the next level up in resistance after large balls. This sort of resistance is only really used for specific bungee sessions as it creates such a large effect. We would recommend having two pipes of about 15-20 cm in length with a diameter of 5-10cm with string for easy use. Obviously there is a lot of variation depending on size and rigidity of the pipes but 2 pipes are roughly equivalent to 2 bungees with 4 large balls on each.

    Pipes are brilliant for creating large amounts of resistance but you have to make sure they are perfectly spaced under your boat because otherwise they will pull your boat sideways which will feel horrible and ruin the effort. Once they are well spaced they do tend to stay in place with only the occasional adjustment necessary.


    Much the same as balls, but more resistance and perhaps smoother. They're hard to track down, but getting them from a swimming shop is generally your best chance. You’ll want a large loop of rope or para cord that goes around your cockpit and then back to the parachute behind you on a single piece.

    Custom resistance scoops

    Custom made 3D printed resistance is relatively new, we’ve only seen it in the last couple of years, but it’s really good. It is easily the best resistance for most sessions, as you can tailor the size to be exactly right for you. The scoop is also great at staying in place during efforts. These can be made big enough to be too much for even the strongest paddler or small enough for novices.

    The only negatives are that they are not good for sessions where you have to change resistance often and are not available to buy commercially.  If you happen to know someone with a 3D printer they use a very easy design and are cheap to make (ignoring the cost of the printer!).

    There are now lots of companies offering 3D printing services where you could get your individual one made. Another advantage of the scoops is that they hit max load quicker than parachutes.

    Tips and some favorite sessions

    Finish the session with the bungee off. Doing the last few efforts without it should help avoid getting you used to the slower pace. You don’t want to be firing slowly when you’re sprinting.

    Keep the efforts short. You won’t be able to output high power for long efforts, so you’ll resort to just paddling slow rather than being strong and efficient.

    Always keep a good distance per stroke, good glide, and generally good technique.

    Warm up properly. You should be anyway, but please don’t go cold into a 15 second effort with 3 big balls, you’ll get hurt sooner or later.

    Consider rolling into the effort starts, unless you’re really strong and used to it. If you go from standing with high resistance it can be hard to keep technique together.

    There is always a debate on whether to have the bungee on the front or back of the boat. On the front is much easier to change if your session needs you to change resistance during the session or to adjust to keep the group together. Some people claim having the resistance on the front emphasises the catch more, although there is not much evidence to support this although there does seem to be a slight increase in the effect of resistance on the front compared to the back. Having resistance on the back tends to feel slightly nicer and also has the advantage of not spaying up water into your cockpit! We use a combination of both depending on weather conditions and the session.

    Session ideas

    8 stroke starts every 45 seconds by 8 by 6, 3 minutes between sets

    Use a big resistance (big balls or a parachute depending on your strength) This session is looking for specific strength gains. You do need to make sure you are strong enough for the resistance and you’ve built your training up to it, otherwise injuries likely. This is a great one for developing start technique when done properly as teaches you how to grip the water and you are effectively doing 48 starts.

    10 seconds every minute by 8 by 5

    This session is looking to develop your ability to produce high amounts of power. The efforts are short enough to attack but still long enough to get you out of breath. Aim for 500m stroke rate but with maximal power. This one is a good one for working on technique as you’ll be doing a lot of efforts, but also have time between them to think or discuss with you coach what needs changing.

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